Improve Your Memory by Building a Memory Palace

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Building a memory palace is a powerful technique to help you remember important information. Learn how to harness this tool and improve your memory.

[Featured Image]:  Male, wearing a dark suit, sitting in front of a laptop computer, using information and tools to build a memory palace.

A memory palace is a mnemonic technique used to improve memory retention and recall. It involves mentally placing information to be remembered in specific locations within an imagined physical space, such as a palace or building, and then mentally "walking" through that space to retrieve the information when needed.

While the invention of the internet has brought endless amounts of information to our fingertips, many professions require us to remember related details. Many of us have to rely on our memories while taking exams, completing projects and job-related tasks, or even swinging by the grocery store. 

While making lists and writing physical reminders can be useful, written text is not always accessible. For example, if you were studying for a professional certification exam, you likely could not bring in notes or reminders. Memory techniques like a memory palace can help you keep important information close.

In this article, we will explore what a memory palace is, why it is a powerful memory technique, and how you can use it in your everyday life.

What is a memory palace? 

A memory palace is a memory technique that associates items or topics with locations within a room, route, or other specified location. Memory palaces help speed recall, and simple words or phrases can represent complex concepts or higher volumes of information. For example, you may associate “blue” with your blue bedding, which helps you remember the phrase, “In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  

This technique goes by many names, such as the Roman Room system, the journey method, and the method of loci. You may have even heard it referenced in popular media, such as the “mind palaces” referred to in Sherlock Holmes story "A Study in Scarlet". 

Learn more about the memory palace technique with this video from Deep Teaching Solutions:

Why should you create a memory palace? 

Memory palaces are a powerful memorization practice shown to significantly improve information recall. By learning this technique, you may be able to “encode” information more quickly into your long-term memory. This can help you master professional skills more rapidly and give you the potential to expand your knowledge base and learn new skills. 

One great attribute of the memory palace method is that you can use it for several types of information. For example, a medical student could build a memory palace for a different topic in each room of their home or workplace. This helps to organize high volumes of information. In one study, researchers found that students introduced to the memory palace technique performed better on assessments and achieved a better overall understanding of the material [1]. 

How to build a memory palace: Step-by-step guide 

You can build a memory palace in several ways, but the key is to develop spatial associations between information pieces and physical locations. When creating a memory palace, follow these key steps:

1. Decide what you want to memorize. 

First, determine what it is you would like to memorize. Before starting, determine how you would like to split concepts or information into separate entities to associate with different locations.

2. Choose a place. 

The location you choose for your memory palace should be somewhere you are very familiar with. You will not usually construct a new location but instead associate ideas and words with an existing place. Somewhere you often go, such as your house and yard, may be an ideal first choice. Other options include a set of your favorite TV show, a workplace, a video game setting, or another scene you can see clearly in your mind.

3. Plan a route. 

In your memory palace location, you will plan a route around the room or space. You can revise this later, but pick an order of locations that makes sense. For example, you might start at the door to your living room and move clockwise around the room. If you follow a routine frequently, such as making a cup of coffee in your kitchen, you can also choose to follow this route in your mind.

4. Assign the information to locations. 

After you have your location and route, it is time to assign the information. Creating clever mnemonics—patterns of words or ideas to help you remember information—can increase the efficacy of your memory palace. 

Making overly exaggerated mental images in your mind can help to improve recall. For example, let’s say you are trying to remember the items you need to pack in your suitcase and are creating a memory palace with your kitchen. You could start at the sink and associate the sink with your T-shirts. You could imagine washing your T-shirts in the sink and lying them on the side to dry. Try to make the image vivid, and imagine small details such as using soap to wash the shirts and squeezing them to get out the excess water. 

You can also create silly and bizarre associations. For example, let’s say the next item you are remembering to pack is your toothbrush. If you associate it with the fridge, imagine it coming to life with a big smile and brushing its teeth, like a cartoon character. Or use similar-sounding words, like associating your spice rack or saucepan with your shoes and socks. The more detail you put into your mental image, the more you are likely to remember it later.

5. Visit your palace regularly. 

A key to making your memory palace work is repetition. If you visit your memory palace often, you give more time for the information to solidify in your memory. Try spaced repetition, which means you will gradually increase the intervals between visiting your memory palace. It is okay if you consult your notes a few times, and you may notice that your route slightly changes. Be flexible with your memory palace to find the way it works best for you.

Next steps

Develop your capacity to learn with Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects from Deep Teaching Solutions. Interested in learning more about memory and memory techniques? Dive into the scientific study of human memory with Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory through Movies from Wesleyan University on Coursera. 

Article sources

  1. Advances in Physiology Education. "The method of loci as a mnemonic device to facilitate learning in endocrinology leads to improvement in student performance as measured by assessments.," Accessed March 8, 2023

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